Tackling HIV+ with ABC+

Test 219. For reasons of medical confidentiality I do not know who he or she is, but I do know that the child who had test number 219 as part of Volunteer Uganda’s HIV/AIDS education programme became one of the 350 people who are diagnosed with HIV everyday in Uganda.
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Of over 200 children tested at St Charles Lwanga Secondary School earlier today, Test 219 was the only one to test HIV+.

Trained nurses were present to break the news and counsellors were on hand to offer support and answer any questions. Test 219 now has an appointment at the local hospital on Tuesday and will begin a regiment of antiretroviral medication thereafter.

The news will have come as a shock but there are positives to take – Test 219 now knows their HIV status, a treatment plan is in place and there is less chance that they will pass on HIV in the future.

And that is the reason behind VU’s HIV education programme – to put measures in place to curb Uganda’s HIV epidemic.

1.2 million Ugandans are infected with HIV. To put that in context, as a proportion of population it is like 2.5 million people living with HIV in the UK, when in reality there are just over 70,000.

Working with Ugandan NGO Mend the Broken Hearts, Volunteer Uganda has developed the ABC+ prevention programme and goes into schools to educate to the next generation of Ugandans who need to be equipped with the knowledge to protect themselves from HIV.

The ABC element is in line with the prevention programme designed by the Ugandan government.

A = Abstinence until marriage
B = Be faithful
C = Correct use of condoms

But Volunteer Uganda builds on this and adds D and E.

D = Disclose status/ Dispel myths
E = Empowerment

In the deeply religious Ugandan culture abstinence always comes first, but it is vital to educate people about condoms, especially as there are so many myths surrounding them – hearing “condoms give you cancer”, “I’m ‘too big’ to use a condom” and “you can re-use condoms” is not uncommon.

But the addition of the ‘+’, of the D and E elements is vitally important.

VU runs workshops to tackle the myths surrounding HIV – you can cure HIV by having sex with a virgin is another common one – and provides free testing for pupils who want to know their status.

Volunteers also tell girls that they are the master of their own body and that they should never feel pressurised into having sex, something that can happen in the male dominated Ugandan society.

Because of VU’s HIV prevention programme, Test 219 now has the chance to get the treatment they need, a chance they would not otherwise have had.

With the continuation of the ABC+ strategy, many more will have the chance to take control of their future by having the facts they need to protect themselves from HIV.

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